Archive for the ‘What Clients Want’ Category

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle:

Do you bill your clients for time that you speak with them on the phone? I have a client who wants to have phone meetings twice a week. A phone meeting with him can run from 15 minutes to an hour. Yet, he feels that I should not bill for that time. Instead, I should only bill for the time that I am “actually doing work.” (His words…not mine.) —Anonymous by request

Warning, this may be a little ranty, lol

And just to be clear, it’s no way directed toward the person asking the question. I give them all the props in the world for having the courage to ask. That’s how we get help, by asking.

What gets my dander up is more about the ridiculous, ignorant information that continues to be spouted out by business morons that create this kind of thinking in clients and colleagues in the first place.

The idea that in this day and age people in our industry are still asking questions like this as if they need permission from anybody about what they’re allowed to do in their business tells me there’s still an insane amount of employee-mindset going on.

NEWSFLASH: Talking with clients IS part of the work.

When you talk with clients on the phone, that’s part of the service you’re providing to them. And you’re in business to be PAID for the service you provide.

You are expending business resources (your time) and that time comes at a cost to your business.

You are being a brainstorming partner and sounding board. You’re also presumably offering your own input, ideas, opinions, feedback and expertise in those conversations, which are aspects of the service and value your client is benefiting from.

So, um, yeah, you should be charging for that. And it’s not up to ANY client to dictate what you do or don’t charge for or how you charge. If he doesn’t want to pay for it, then he shouldn’t be given it. And if he doesn’t like that, he can go somewhere else.

Now, all that said, this question points out a few things that are going on in this person’s business that need to be addressed.

  1. This client sounds like he thinks you’re some kind of employee. That means YOU haven’t done a proper job of educating him before ever working together about the fact that you are an independent professional—ahem, a BUSINESS—providing a service and expertise, no different than if he were to hire an attorney or an accountant or a coach, etc. You have GOT to set your prospects and clients STRAIGHT about this right from the get-go (which means you have to get this straight first yourself). You are not an employee. Period. End of story. That’s not how business works. There is no such thing as a 1099 employee. When clients are operating under no delusions about this, they approach the relationship with a more appropriate professional demeanor and respect, and they expect to pay for services they are provided.
  2. You haven’t defined your policies and procedures and your boundaries and parameters thoroughly. This is really business planning 101, which makes me wonder if you’ve done any of that. If you haven’t, go back now and do that. It’s important if you want happy clients and a happy, profitable and long-lived business! How you bill; what you bill for; what is included in the service and what is not; how many phone calls a client is allowed each week; what time limit they get per call; whether or not phone calls are by appointment only and need to be scheduled or not; how regular communication is to be conducted (e.g., email only)… these are just some of the things you need to clarify in your business. And then put all that information in a Client Guide to be given to every new client at the start of the relationship. (By the way: Set-01 The Administrative Consultant Business Set-Up Success Kit in the ACA Success Store includes a New Client Welcome Kit guide and Client Guide template to help you get this sorted in your business.)
  3. The fact that this client is complaining about being charged for phone calls now tells me you did not properly inform him upfront, before working together, how things work in your business. Of course, when you haven’t set your policies and procedures in the first place, how can you inform them upfront, right? Which is why you have to get clear about them first (see #2). You want to eliminate any misunderstandings and surprises as much as possible because those all too frequently become relationship killers.

And while it’s not any client’s business to tell you how to run yours, this does point to several of the reasons I don’t advocate selling hours as a billing methodology:

  1. It puts your interests at odds with each other. You only make more money the more hours you charge, and clients don’t like what they view as being nickeled and dimed.
  2. If you work fast, you are penalized financially while clients are getting the value and benefit of that speed without paying for it.
  3. Everything becomes a transaction which becomes the focus instead of the results, goals and objectives that together you wish to achieve.

Learning how to price, package your support, and talk about fees with clients is an area of business education in and of itself—part art, part science. There is a way to make sure you are paid for the time and value of the service you provide to clients without using time as the measurement and without clients feeling like they are being nickeled and dimed.

I teach a methodology called Value-Based Pricing that unties your earning ability from the hands of the ticking clock, and brings you and the client’s interests back into alignment so you can begin working more truly together with the same goals, intentions and motivations.

The fantastic byproduct of this methodology is that clients never again complain about being charged for this or that because it’s all part of the package.

You can learn more about all that and get my Value-Based Pricing and Packaging self-study guide here >>. (Be sure and watch the video!)

If you have any questions about any of this, please post in the comments and I’m happy to keep the conversation going there.

Hope this helps! (And if you have your own question on a different topic for me, please feel free to submit it here.)

How Do You Overcome the “I Need a Person in the Office” Argument?

You don’t. 😉

You’re barking up the wrong tree.

That person wants and needs an employee. And that’s not what you are. You’re not a substitute employee.

Which is the second part of the problem. You are still thinking of yourself as—and trying to sell yourself in the context of being—an assistant.

Remember, when you are in business, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant.

I want to challenge you to think about what you do, what you are and what administrative support is, apart from and outside of the context of assistant.

When you do that, you realize that you are an independent professional (not an assistant) with a particular specialization and expertise to offer (administrative support) in the same way that an attorney is an expert in the law and an accountant is an expert in financial matters.

Once you raise your consciousness about that, you will begin to see and define your role differently, which will lead you to market differently, which will draw and attract an entirely different audience, one that’s not looking for temps or substitute employees, but an alternative to those things.

Marketing Isn’t About You

Marketing is not about you, it’s about your clients and prospects.

So if you are feeling like you are “bragging” too much, that’s a good sign you may be talking about yourself too much entirely.

Clients want to see their needs, interests, challenges, problems, pains and concerns reflected in your message and conversations.

They want to see that you get them, and in “getting” them, they feel that you have insight into how to solve those things for them.

Focus your marketing message not on you, but on what kind of difference you can and do make in your clients’ lives and businesses.

Which Category Do You Fall Into?

I was going through some old listserv messages the other day that I had saved for one reason or another and came across one where a Virtual Assistant was lamenting about possibly losing a client.

She had learned inadvertently that this client was seeking a new VA, and she was upset that she hadn’t been told about it directly.

She complained that she had bent over backward for this client, and the client hadn’t mentioned a word to her or given her any indication about being unhappy with her work.

While it is understandably upsetting when people aren’t upfront, I still couldn’t help but notice her poor writing skills.

She used the wrong spelling of certain words, didn’t punctuate her sentences properly, etc. It naturally made me wonder if this was any indication of her skill level and competence. Because if it was, it could explain the reason the client was seeking someone else.

Everything we do as administrative experts is a demonstration of our skill and competence (or lack of it, as the case may be).

Language and written communication skills are integral to everything we do. If you aren’t able to communicate clearly and coherently with clients in proper form, we can’t honestly be upset with them if that poor communication doesn’t inspire their confidence.

They want their work to be as professional as it can be. How can they trust that you can accomplish that if you don’t show them a command of the necessary language skills?

I don’t know if this was the case or not with this VA, but it did lead me to another thought… that there are basically two categories of people in our industry.

  1. There are those who take healthy pride in the administrative skills and talents they possess. They elevate their work to the level of craft, of art. They are able to apply abstract, critical thinking to not just do the work, but do it really, really well. Beautifully even.
  2. Then there are those who got into this industry because they heard it was a way to make some extra money. They sit passively waiting to be told what to do (sometimes even how to do it!), and are either unable or unwilling to exert any more effort or thought beyond the literal request.

Which category do you think provides more value for clients? Which creates more ease for them and inspires their trust and confidence?

Which do you fall into?

Dear Danielle: What About References?

Dear Danielle:

What do you think of prospective clients asking Administrative Consultants for references? –DE

I think when clients ask for references, they:

a) aren’t understanding the nature of the relationship, and/or

b) aren’t feeling the trust/competence/credibility that good demonstration of those things would give them.

Yes, we get irritated with some clients. Some clients are just looking for a free ride or intentionally trying to get what amounts to an under-the-table employee. I have no love for those types.

But other clients (I think probably the majority) are only misinformed because the industry at large is the one misinforming them and setting the wrong expectations.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the VA industry is still stuck in employee-mindset.

People, you have got to stop with all the references and comparisons to employees. All that is accomplishing is making clients think that you are some new kind of employee. Your job isn’t to replace employees. Some businesses and some workloads simply require an employee.

We, on the other hand, are business owners. As such, we should be representing a higher, more professional level of skill sets for clients who want greater expertise and who have administrative workloads that don’t require an employee.

You have to show and tell clients how to properly seek out a professional (not an employee). They don’t necessarily know how to do that. When the industry at large stops marketing like an employee and comparing itself to employees, those requests for references will go down considerably.

But here’s the other part of the issue… when clients ask for references, a lot of times it’s because they just aren’t getting what they need to trust that they’re hiring a pro, an administrative expert.

Where they get that is through your presentation of yourself and your business.

That means, you have to demonstrate skill, competence, legitimacy, credibility and qualification in all that you do… in the visual design and display of your website, in your marketing message, in your speaking and writing, everything.

Because when you do that, you are instilling in them the sense of those things. They don’t feel the need then to look or ask for additional “proof.”

So if you are getting lots of requests for references, it’s a signal that your presentation, your image, your message, etc., may not be up to snuff.

That’s a good time to go through all your content and marketing message and see where you might be losing them. You might even want to get the help of a pro to give you feedback on where you might be falling short and help beef things up.

As far as marketing goes, it’s always a great idea to have testimonials from current or former clients. Provide full names, pictures, urls and contact info if the client agrees to that.

Be sure and intentionally use and reinforce the term “testimonials” by the way. Very important. You want to steer clients away from confusing you in any way with an employee.

So if a client asks for references, you could say, “Oh, you mean testimonials? Of course!” and you can then steer them in the direction of the testimonials on your website.

The other thing you can do is have a more elaborate or in-depth sheet that you can provide to clients who are further along in your consultation process.

If they still want to talk to someone in person, all you need is one or two clients who are agreeable to giving out their contact info and then save that info only for the most serious of prospects.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is inconvenience any of your past or current clients with constant phone calls and emails from other would-be clients so dole that info out judiciously.

At the same time, I will tell you that if you are meeting all the other tests of credibility and demonstration of skill and competence in everything else you do, requests for further references and “proof” are going to be little to none.

In over 12 years of business, I cannot remember a time that I have ever been asked for references.

Thar’s Gold in That There Client Feedback

I often sense that those in our industry are afraid of hearing not-so-complimentary feedback.

Which is too bad because that kind of information is good as gold to your business.

You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge or that you may not even know is wrong.

So when clients who are otherwise rational, thoughtful people take the time to give their honest input on things that are offputting to them, we should listen.

I’m not saying we have to throw ourselves off a cliff, much less drop everything and completely change our businesses or approach, at the first hint of any discontent, nor that every client’s personal beef is legitimate.

You do have to know how to discern between valid, reasonable gripes and those that are just ridiculous.

For example, a client who complains that an Administrative Consultant won’t design their website and provide shoppingcart support (because that’s like asking a plumber to fix their car), much less lump it in with their administrative support, is nothing but a cheapskate who wants something for nothing.

That’s not a gripe you need to pay any mind to because it’s like expecting a plumber to fix their car. That’s not the business we’re in. They’re barking up the wrong tree.

However, when a client has repeated unsatisfactory experiences and complaints that aren’t outrageous, that tells us there is a disconnect going on.

If you belong to my association and/or are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve frequently heard me call this the “misalignment of expectations and understandings.”

It would behoove us not to listen and examine this feedback to see where we can bridge the gaps.

That disconnect might be related to the client (and our marketplace as a whole) not knowing how to choose the right administrative partner.

They might have only shopped by price instead of skills, qualification, fit and value.

They might be trying to make an employee out of you (which is the wrong expectation entirely, but which signals that you haven’t done your job of educating them properly).

They might have too much on-demand needs or expectations. Their business and workload might be at a level where we are simply not the right solution and they really need an employee.

All of these kinds of things point out that our industry still has much work to do in the way of properly educating and setting expectations in our marketplace.

The other side of that coin is that we ourselves need to understand the business we’re in so we can recognize the ramifications of setting wrong or unsustainable expectations and the subsequent consequences that leads to.

For example, too many people in our industry are telling our marketplace that they have the same level of responsibilities as an in-house employee.

That’s insanity and a ridiculous, impossible expectation to set in clients, not to mention a surefire recipe for failure of the service provider-client relationship.

Clients need to either hire an employee, or seek an alternative.

But as with any alternative (which means “not the same things as”), there are going to be trade-offs and differences in how you work together.

I recently heard from a business owner who has tried unsuccessfully working with several people in our industry for the past five years whose feedback I found to be very valid.

We actually ended up having a really nice conversation on the phone. He is a perfectly nice man who has very reasonable concerns and has had difficulty getting his business needs taken care of.

One of the things I educated him about was that trying to make an employee out of someone in the administrative support business (business being the operative word here) doesn’t work and in fact is illegal.

For that reason, he simply has to take his idea of on-demand stuff out of his expectations. Because that’s just not how things work in a business-to-business relationship.

Even if an administrative service provider (and it’s usually a newbie) were to take that work on like that, eventually as her practice grew, it would become more and more difficult, and eventually impossible, for her to sustain the ability to work together in that capacity.

Ours is about leveraged, strategic administrative support, not beck-and-call instant support like an employee.

We also talked about working with the right professional for the job.

I referred back to my plumber/car mechanic analogy: If someone needs their car fixed, why are they calling a plumber?

I’ll often hear from clients who weren’t happy with the website they had a virtual assistant design for them, and I’m have to be frank with them: Well, what did you expect? They aren’t web designers. Just because someone owns Photoshop or Dreamweaver doesn’t make them a designer. Why didn’t you go to the proper professional in the first place?

Or they’ll complain that they didn’t get quality writing out of their virtual assistant, and I have to ask them: Well then, why didn’t you hire a real copywriter? These people aren’t writers. That’s not the business they’re in. REAL writers/copywriters know what business their in and advertise themselves as such. They don’t market themselves as some kind of cut-rate gopher or jack of all trades.

That’s why it’s important to understand it’s important to know what business you’re in and what you’re not. Trying to make a mechanic out of a plumber is not going to help anyone.

I addressed his complaint that virtual assistants often don’t have the skills they advertise. I agree with him. I’ve experienced some of the same things.

I’ve worked with many over the years who should not be in business taking anyone’s money.

We’re an unregulated industry and there are too many people looking to make a fast buck who don’t have the background or skills to be doing this work who can hang out a shingle overnight.

But this is also why it is the client’s responsibility to choose properly.

If they want to take the cheap way out and expect five star skill, qualification and service at a McDonald’s price, they are living on Fantasy Island.

These are things he was also realizing himself.

I gave him some ideas on what to look for (for one thing, someone who has well thought out business policies and procedures for working with clients; even someone who has the skills, but not the business foundation and systems, is going to have equally unhappy clients), how to leverage the support in a better way, and how to discern when someone is not the right provider for the work and to seek other solutions instead.

After talking with me, he changed his mind about being entirely through with our industry.

Once we bring expectations and understandings into alignment, our industry and clients and the marketplace at large will be more on the same page and much happier with each other.

Okay, here’s this client’s feedback…

“Danielle, I am hoping you can read my email without trying to strangle me!  I’ve been a subscriber for several months to your newsletter. But I think I am done working with Virtual Assistants. And I have worked with various Virtual Assistants for five years. Spent a lot of money, didn’t really get too far.

“I’ll admit, the first two years, I was a major part of the problem.  I was not very clear on what I wanted the Virtual Assistant to do. But for nearly the past three-plus years, I’ve had enough experience where I can say that many Virtual Assistants:

  • Do NOT have the skills they advertise.
  • Do not have the expertise with products and resources they say they do.
  • Rarely complete work on time.
  • Have a difficult time estimating how much will be involved in a project, which slows everything else down.
  • Suffer from the loneliness factor. When they get someone on the phone, it becomes a gabfest…and I’m paying!
  • In constant “education mode.” They need to spend all weekend getting up to speed on a tool you need them to use (which they professed they had working knowledge of).
  • You become their guinea pig

“I have also found that if you are somewhat flexible in deadlines, a “nice guy” or easygoing, the other clients of the Virtual Assistant will soon take (re-allocate) much of your Virtual Assistant’s prime working time.

“It’s also (to me) become a major red flag when a Virtual Assistant volunteers “Oh, I can do that, too!” (like answer your phones).

“Because of all the reasons above, I can no longer find Virtual Assistants to be a viable option at $45/hour. Many Virtual Assistants are far too over-priced. And I have paid Virtual Assistants amounts like $30, $35 and $40/hour. You do NOT get what you pay for.”

Let’s discuss… what do you think about all this?

Saying Anything to Get the Business Is a Fast-Track to Downfall

You’ve seen websites like this: newer virtual assistants who are so eager for business they’ll make all kinds of unrealistic promises in order to get clients, any clients, to bite.

They practically promise they can stop the sun from setting and the rain from falling.

Some of the claims and promises they make fall only this short of practically telling clients they’ll peel their grapes and lick their boots.

They don’t understand that they are creating expectations in clients that will be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, to live up to or manage, and thereby set themselves up for failure. (not to mention, let down the clients who depended on them).

It neither serves nor honors clients (or yourself) to say anything to get the business. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Denise Aday wrote a fantastic article that speaks to this kind of straight-talk: Tough Love Accountability: 4 Golden Rules

Now that’s honesty. Guess what’s great about honesty? It means it is trustworthy.

It’s important to be forthright and realistic about what you can and can’t (or won’t do) for clients and the limitations of your service You want to set healthy boundaries and expectations.

A trustworthy person can be counted on to be consistently truthful and reliable in their words and actions.

Clients of trustworthy people know that they will get straight-up advice and feedback that will truly help them move forward in their business and get things done.

Those who can’t be truthful and honest about reality are often people-pleasers.

People-pleasers think they are being nice. But what’s nice or honorable about dishonesty? Because that’s really what it boils down to: dishonesty.

They’ll say anything just to be nice or get the business, and in the end, there’s nothing nice or helpful about that.

When you lift the facade, people-pleasers are just selfish, self-absorbed and concerned only with their own interests. That’s certainly not client-centric.

Others who can’t be truthful about reality are suffering from a scarcity complex.

Scarcity thinking and poverty mentality are killers, folks.

If you are saying anything to get business, you are letting fear-based thinking get the best of you. It’s saying to yourself, I’m not worthy of ideal clients who respect me and value what I do for them. It’s saying to the universe that you don’t deserve clients who respect and value you and will treat you well.

This kind of thinking is powerfully debilitating.

It will prevent you from growing a business that serves and honors both you and your clients, one that is sustainable, manageable, and will attract the right kind of long-term clients who will truly honor and respect the valuable assistance you provide for them.

Don’t let fear-based thinking guide your words or actions.

Trust that when you instill realistic, reasonable and respectful expectations and are reliably, consistently truthful and upfront, you’ll attract more ideal clients.

You, your business and your clients will reap the benefits a hundredfold. You’ll have better clients and a happier life and business.

Do You Know What Business You’re Really In?

If you’re in the Administrative Consultant business, you’re in the collaborative administrative support business, right?

But do you understand the real business you are in?

If you are an Administrative Consultant, you’re really in the convenience business.

Why?

Because you provide a convenient alternative to employees for businesses that don’t have the time, space or large enough workload for employees.

If you are an Administrative Consultant, you’re also in the business of creating time.

By leveraging your time, talents and administrative expertise, your clients increase the hours they have at their disposal to to focus on their business.

If you are an Administrative Consultant, your service is so much more than the administrative support you provide.

A skilled, qualified, competent and thinking Administrative Consultant allows clients to grow their business faster.

You help clients accomplish goals and projects they never would have been able to on their own.

Your masterful skills deliver higher quality, which makes them look more polished and professional to their clients.

You allow them to operate more efficiently, thus profitably.

Your relationship with them helps them create the business of their dreams and the life they want to live.

You afford them the “space” to be and think and create.

As an Administrative Consultant, you come value-added, and that, in turn, allows your clients’ businesses run better and look better to their clients and customers.

Remember that in your marketing message.

It’s the difference between being merely a secretarial service doing drive-by work here and there and an actual administrative expert and partner for clients.

Client aren’t going to get that with project-based, transactional tasks because it’s absent the ongoing, collaborative dynamic that is inherent in your service delivery.

A Quick Thought About Focus

A quick thought for all you in the administrative support business struggling to gain balance and focus:

You aren’t in business to serve anyone and everyone.

You are in business to serve only those you serve best, whose needs are most in alignment with your needs and business offerings.

Focus first on what you need and want from your business and the kind of clients you want, and everything else will fall into place.

Forget about trying to offer every single thing that you think clients want.

Figure out what business you want to be in, what you want to offer, how you want to offer it, and who you want to offer it to, and your right, ideal clients will find you.

As you gain clarity and understanding about that, you’ll find that your business is easier and happier to run, you attract more money and clients (and better clients), and you have much more success and satisfaction.

I guarantee it. You’ll see… :)

Why Setting Boundaries and Policies Is About Excellent Customer Service

Lots of folk like to think customer service is all about saying “yes” to anything and everything.

That’s a recipe for not only unhappy business ownership, but poor customer satisfaction as well.

If you’ve followed my writings for any length of time, you know I talk a lot about the importance of making sure you take care of your needs first in business; that you’re:

  • working with people you like;
  • doing work you love;
  • charging a profitable rate; and
  • getting paid on time and fairly for the value you provide.

Having those needs met is vitally important to service delivery. A miserable service provider will inevitably become surly and resentful, do sloppy work, drag their feet and miss deadlines.

That’s definitely not good for business, and makes for very unhappy customers.

Setting clear boundaries and policies sets the foundation for providing excellent customer service and creating a happy client experience.

A client who doesn’t know what the boundaries are is bound to step over a line they don’t even know exists.

Likewise, if the protocols and policies in your business haven’t been clearly outlined, you leave clients to decide on their own how your business works.

Invariably, this leads to them doing or expecting something that doesn’t jibe in some way with how you do things in your business.

And us being human, we end up getting irritated with these clients.

But why? They aren’t mind readers.

You have no business feeling frustrated with clients (which, by the way, they will sense no matter how well you think you are hiding it) if you haven’t clearly communicated your standards and boundaries, your policies and procedures and how things work in your business, and what expectations they may (and may not) have.

No one likes to step falteringly or feel their way forward in the dark. Your policies and procedures are the road map clients need to do business with you.

Clearly articulated policies put clients at ease because they then know how things will proceed. They know what to expect and when. In turn, they will feel more confident in you and find working with you easier and more pleasant.

The purpose of your policies and procedures is to create the optimum conditions that allow you to deliver on your service promises and create the very best client experience that you can.

Don’t hem and haw and expect people to read your mind. Tell clients what you need from them. Find out what they need and want. Then share with them the polices and standards you have set in your business that allow you to achieve those desired outcomes.